As we blogged about earlier this month, the SBA’s May 31, 2016 final rule made some major changes to a number of regulations dealing with small business procurement. Some of those changes relate to the SBA HUBZone contracting program.
Earlier this week, we blogged about a final rule issued on May 31 by the Small Business Administration (“SBA”), which made several major changes to the small business regulations. This new rule implements changes mandated by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, (“NDAA”) and finalizes the proposed rule issued by the SBA back in December of 2014.
As we blogged Wednesday, this week the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) published a lengthy final rule that implements the long-awaited small business regulation changes mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) of 2013. The rule makes a number of very important changes affecting Federal contractors. One of the more important changes makes it easier for small businesses to form joint ventures (JVs) to compete for government procurements and removes prior, and often confusing, restrictions.
The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) has had a very busy week. First, on May 24, 2016, the agency issued “Statement of General Policy No. 3” (“the Statement”) clarifying the hotly debated inter-affiliate sales exclusion (an issue relating to the counting of annual receipts for purposes of determining size). Then, yesterday, the agency published a lengthy final rule, which implements the long-awaited small business regulation changes mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) of 2013. Collectively, the Statement and the rule make a number of very important changes affecting Federal contractors. Some of the most important changes are: Continue Reading SBA Issues Important Changes and Clarification Concerning Small Business Regulations
Welcome to the third edition of Legal Landscape, a series we have developed with Onvia’s blog to provide government contractors with a quick, but thorough, summary of important legal developments and regulations in government contracting, as well as a plain-English explanation of how those developments may affect contractors at all levels of government. In this issue, we discuss recent trends in federal, state and local government contracting. Contractors should keep in mind that state and local agencies often look to changes in federal regulations as a guide for future changes at their respective levels. Changes recently made in the federal arena are likely to trickle down to state and local governments soon.
Continue Reading Legal Landscape: Top News in the Mentor-Protégé Program, Bond Claims & DBE Fraud
Join Ed DeLisle and Maria Panichelli for their presentation for TargetGov and the Government Contracting Institute on November 2, 2015 in Linthicum Heights, MD. Continue Reading Bid Protests, and Size/Status Eligibility Challenges: In-Depth Look at the Most Important Processes in Government Contracting
Please join us for Maria Panichelli‘s webinar for Govology on October 29, 2015 at 1:00PM EST.
In today’s extremely competitive federal contracting market, understanding bid protests and the procedures relating to protests can make the difference between getting the contract, or getting left out of the race altogether. Continue Reading Debriefing, Bid Protests, and Size & Status Investigations
Welcome to the second edition of Legal Landscape, a series we have developed with Onvia’s blog to provide government contractors with a quick, but thorough, summary of important legal developments and regulations in government contracting, as well as a plain-English explanation of how those developments may affect contractors at all levels of government. In this issue, we discuss recent compliance and enforcement trends in federal as well as state and local government contracting. State and local contractors should keep in mind that state and local agencies often look to changes in federal regulations as a guideline; changes recently made in the federal arena are likely to trickle down to state and local governments soon.
Exciting news! We recently teamed up with Onvia, a well-known government contracting resource delivering the necessary data, business intelligence, analytics and tools to help clients succeed in the government market. In addition to our continued posts on this blog, we will now be publishing a series called Legal Landscape on Onvia’s blog. The quarterly series is specifically designed to provide government contractors with a quick, but thorough, summary of important legal developments, as well as a plain-English explanation of how those developments may affect you.
You probably already know about set-aside programs offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but did you know that provisions in your corporate governance documents could ruin your eligibility for those programs? Ed DeLisle and Maria Panichelli’s new article for Onvia covers critical corporate governance provisions that could potentially destroy your status under the VA’s new guidelines. “Three Provision Pitfalls in Small Business Corporate Governance Documents” contains critical information and the most problematic governance provisions for Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB/ VOSB) including definitional clauses or clauses dealing with authority, supermajority provisions and involuntary transfer provisions as well as limitations on transfer provisions. Learn more in the full article below:
The federal government offers a multitude of programs designed to assist small businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is certainly at the forefront of such programs, but it is not the only agency. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) has created a very popular program of its own for Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB/ VOSB). Many contractors generally know about the benefits of participating in these programs. Some may even know about the applicable eligibility requirements. But what many contractors don’t know is that provisions in their corporate governance documents could destroy their eligibility for such programs. This article seeks to educate contractors about the three most common provisions affecting small business program eligibility.
The federal government’s Small Business Programs – the SBA’s 8(a), HUBZone,
VOSB/SDVOSB and WOSB/EDWOSB Programs, as well as the VA’s VOSB/SDVOSB Program – share certain eligibility requirements. Specifically, in addition to the threshold requirement of being a “small” business, each program requires at least 51% “unconditional ownership,” as well as “unconditional control,” of that business by particular individuals. For example, a veteran or service-disabled veteran has to unconditionally own at least 51% of a company and unconditionally control that company in order for that company to be considered a VOSB or SDVOSB, respectively. Similarly, a woman or an economically disadvantaged woman needs to unconditionally own and control a business if that business wishes to be considered an eligible WOSB or EDWOSB.
Figuring out who must have ownership and control of the concern is the easy part: Definition sections of the applicable regulations are found here: 13 C.F.R. §§§ 124.01, 124.03 and 124.04 for 8(a) businesses; 13 C.F.R. § 126.200 for HUBZone concerns; 13 C.F.R. Part 125 for the SBA VOSB/SDVOSB program; 38 C.F.R. § 74.2 for the VA VOSB/SDVOSB program; and 13 C.F.R. §§ 127.102 and 127.200 for the WOSB/EDWOSB program. The difficult part is figuring out how the definitions are defined: How must these individuals own and control the company? The regulations tell us that ownership and control must be unconditional. But what does unconditional really mean? Said a different way, under what circumstances do these agencies consider ownership or control to be conditional? That is where trouble often lurks. Many times, a finding of conditional ownership or control is based on a provision or requirement found in a company’s operating agreement, shareholder’s agreement or by-laws. Several of the most problematic provisions are discussed below.
1) Definitional Clauses or Clauses Dealing with Authority
Corporate governance documents almost always contain a provision outlining who the members or owners are, or defining who will manage the entity. While these provisions are not problematic per se, they can cause issues when roles are not clearly defined or authority appears to be shared.
The powers of the Company shall be exercised by or under the authority of, and the business and affairs of the Company shall be managed under the direction of, one or more managers. The Manager(s) shall be: Jane Doe, John Doe and Yogi Berra.
The problem with this clause is that it gives the impression that all three of these individuals have equal decision-making authority. What if Mr. Berra is the majority owner, and the service-disabled veteran upon whom the company’s SDVOSB eligibility depends? This provision, as written, would seem to indicate that he does not have ultimate authority over the company but, rather, shares control with the other two managers. Even if the corporate governance document otherwise demonstrates that Yogi is the 66% owner, or specifies that no decision can be made by the company without Yogi’s approval, the SBA and VA could very well question whether unconditional control exists based upon this clause. For that reason, it often makes more sense to name only the majority owner(s), upon whom eligibility depends, as managers or managing members. The remaining individuals can be given other titles.
2) Supermajority Provisions
As the name indicates, supermajority provisions are provisions that require an ownership vote of more than a simple majority to effectuate material change.
Removal of Members: Members may be removed from the LLC by an affirmative vote of more the 66% of the LLC members.
The problem with these types of provisions is that they can divest a majority owner of his or her power to unconditionally control the company. Consider the following example: Bob, a service disabled veteran, owns 51% of Bob’s Electric Company, LLC and has applied for SDVOSB verification through the VA. The operating agreement contains a supermajority provision which requires at least a 2/3 vote to remove a member. Because Bob owns only 51%, he cannot, without the consent of other members, effectuate this change. In other words, Bob does not have unfettered authority to remove another member on his own. Therefore, in the eyes of the VA, Bob does not unconditionally control his company and Bob’s Electric is not a legitimate SDVOSB. For this reason, supermajority provisions should be avoided if a business wishes to participate in the Small Business Programs. The sole exception is if the majority owner owns more than is required under the supermajority provision (using the example above, this would mean Bob owned 67% or more) and therefore, could effectuate change without the consent of the minority owners.
3) Involuntary Transfer Provisions and Limitations on Transfer Provisions
Involuntary transfer provisions encompass an array of provisions, each of which operates to divest an owner of his or her ownership interest without consent. Common examples include a transfer upon insolvency or bankruptcy, a transfer upon criminal conviction or a transfer upon incapacity or death.
Transfer Upon Insolvency: Upon the insolvency of any member, that member must transfer his or her shares to the other member at a price determined by [document pricing provisions].
Similarly, limitations on transfer provisions prevent a member or shareholder from freely transferring his or her ownership interest. Some examples include provisions that provide for a right of first refusal (i.e., a requirement that the selling or transferring member/shareholder must offer to sell his or her interests to other members/shareholders before any other individual or entity) or provisions that require consent of other members before a sale of ownership interest can be made.
Restrictions on Transfer: No Member shall sell, assign, pledge, give or otherwise transfer or encumber in any manner or by any means whatsoever, any interest in a Membership Interest whether now owned or hereafter acquired without having obtained the prior written consent of all of the members of the Company.
The SBA and VA commonly view provisions like this as placing “conditions” on ownership. In the agencies’ view, if an owner can be divested of its ownership without his or her consent, or if an owner does not have unfettered freedom to sell his or her ownership interest, that owner does unconditionally own the company. That said, in a 2013 case litigated by our firm, the Court of Federal Claims ruled that in certain cases, rights of first refusal are permissible, and do not render an owner’s control as conditional. However, it is important to keep in mind that the COFC’s decision in that case addressed VA regulations that pertain to SDVOSBs under that program only. It is not entirely clear if the SBA’s similarly-worded regulations would be interpreted in the same way. For this reason, and just to be safe, it is probably a better idea to exclude these types of provisions altogether.
The provisions identified here are not the only provisions that can cause eligibility issues — but contractors who learn to avoid these three common pitfalls will be way ahead of the game! Of course, the advice in this article represents general guidelines only and each company must assess for itself how best to draft its corporate governance documents. Drafting an operating agreement, shareholders agreement or by-laws that simultaneously address all of the company’s needs, balance the interests of the various owners, and comply with all relevant SBA and VA regulations can be a daunting task. If contractors have any questions about how to draft the best corporate governance documents for their company, the best course of action is to contact a legal professional to assist.
Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Ed frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues and dispute resolution.
Maria L. Panichelli is an Associate in the firm’s Federal Contracting Practice Group. Her practice includes a wide variety of federal contracting and construction matters, as well as all aspects of small business procurement.